Joe Simmons, SJ over at the Jesuit Post is begging parents not to use the cry room.
When I’m at Mass, talking adults drive me nuts. But not kids. As they squirm and roam the space with their clear eyes and mouths agape, I smile. As Meg Hunter-Kilmer writes here, we need your wailing kids at church not despite the distractions they bring, but exactly because they are distractions from what otherwise can be – let’s admit – a sometimes selfish time. We need them to pull us out of ourselves, or at least I do. And although we usually don’t say welcome or thank you, we should.
My pastor, Fr. Jack Ledwon has a great take on all of this. He often says that little kids have a hard time sitting there for about an hour and can get really overstimulated as well. So there’s no need for a parent to torture their child. If they need to go take a walk, then take them for a walk. Use the bathroom, sure it’s right in the sacristy. There’s even a rocking chair for moms who want to rock their baby to calmness.
Babies don’t distract me at mass. Like Fr. Simmons, SJ, I always love seeing them at mass. What does distract me and annoy me are children who should know better. My sense is that this applies to every child over the age of 8 or so. You can sit there for about an hour without having a meltdown in you’re in 2nd grade, but things happen and I suppose each child is different and no matter what, we should welcome them. Perhaps talking to an older child privately about their behavior could be warranted, but we should also ask ourselves why we can’t engage children with a liturgy that is meant for all of us–not just a select few?
But my favorite story about this–or should say my least favorite comes from one of my old University Professors, Dr. Kieran Scott who reported that he attended a parish once where a young mother brought her 4 little boys to mass. They were quite a handful and not a one of them were over the age of 6.
You could only imagine: one pokes the other, so the other punches back, etc.
She’s there with a baby in her arms praying that he won’t wake up and trying to keep the three other ones in line. The parishioners all sympathized with her, save one: The Pastor.
In the middle of his homily he screamed: “YOU!”
The woman looked up and pointed at herself.
“YES, YOU. With those three little brats and another one on the way to be a brat! You are a horrendous mother! I have worked very hard on this homily and nobody is paying attention because YOU can’t control these children.”
The woman’s eyes turned downcast.
The pastor continued: “Now take those kids and get out and only come back to this mass when you can teach them how to behave!”
The woman started to leave with her eyes down and head lowered. She started to cry. I imagine the kids were elated….but then one thing happened that amazed my professor.
Everyone else started to leave too.
It seems Fr. Jerk was saying anything worth listening to anyway and his actions motivated the best in the parish.
One parishioner put his arm around mom and said “C’mon honey, we’ll find your family another church where they’ll actually be glad you are bringing your kids to church.”
And thus, we pastoral workers need to understand not just the need of parents, but the needs of children. Might we want to get them moving to a children’s liturgy of the word, so they can understand the word better? Might we want to be good preachers so that everyone understands our stories of salvation and the examples we use?
Might we want to learn children’s names and be more open to the vocation they have right now, not down the road?
How might we become like little children, who don’t discriminate, who share, who remain open to new experiences and who are all to eager to learn?
And might we be more open to the stranger in our midst and be a church truly open to welcome all.
Even if their kids are noisy.